Did you know you can help young women increase their ability to create a prosperous, satisfying future for themselves and others through STEM?
As defined by Michigan, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics delivered in an integrated fashion using cross-disciplinary learning experiences that can include language arts, performing and fine arts, and career and technical education.
By this definition, STEM is an integrated and authentic range of subjects and skills that work together and help us understand the world and find solutions to the problems we see. Put another way, humans are a part of both the natural and social worlds. Our curiosities and passions rely on skills such as observing, noticing patterns, understanding cause and effect, experimenting, troubleshooting, and so many more. These skills can bring joy and success to the things we love. And these skills are STEM skills.
As parents, we can help our youth recognize the parts of their identity that are deeply connected to STEM.
In fact, our communities need our help to inspire youth, particularly our young female students, to see themselves as capable, passionate, and successful in STEM.
Whether you love gardening, painting, tinkering in the workshop, yoga, paddling, camping, cooking, playing video games, performing, or lounging on the beach, STEM is a part of these experiences, and often adds a depth and a beauty to them. For example, when you garden, through understanding the needs of the plants you’re raising, you’re constantly learning and appreciating your garden ecosystem’s complexity and how amazing those plants truly are, much more so than if you simply picked up the same vegetables from the grocery store. As community members, parents, and teachers we can help our children realize that the things they love to do are in fact how they are making sense of the world.
To get started, let’s break down our actions into three simple things that might help us inspire our youth, particularly our young females, to consider STEM in their futures: Things we need to know, things we need to say, and things we need to do.
Things We Need to Know
As parents, mentors, and role models, we need to believe everyone can find joy, and yes, even a career in STEM so that the many complex issues facing the world today (i.e. social justice, medicine/health, energy, food shortages, climate change, etc.) can be better addressed. We need to first recognize that our own hobbies and interests are deeply connected to STEM in ways we perhaps haven’t fully acknowledged yet.
We also need to recognize and be aware of current trends and opportunities in STEM. Despite gains in the number of women pursuing some STEM careers, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics, women are proportionately half as likely as men to major in math, computer science, science, engineering, and technology. These fields are fast-growing, often more lucrative than those that were considered “women’s fields,” and in need of diverse ways of thinking. From data science to cybersecurity to advanced manufacturing, the need for talent and innovation is unprecedented.
Things We Need to Say
How we communicate is important; our choice of words matter. As parents, mentors, and role models, we must be diligent in how we talk about STEM with our children. First, we can communicate that it’s not about being ‘good at math or science,’ or finding the ‘correct answer.’ Rather, it’s about learning through our experiences and using our senses to notice things in the world, using our curiosity to ask questions about what we see, and leveraging multiple sources of information (i.e. text, conversations, pictures, experiences, models, etc.) to develop our ideas.
Second, it is hugely important to caution ourselves against sharing our own bias with students and unconsciously portraying STEM as difficult, overly technical, being largely for boys, or some of us not being good at it.
Have you ever heard an adult colleague, friend, or perhaps yourself say, “I was never very good at math”? This comment is easily spoken, but can leave a lasting impression on young minds. Much research has been done about the influence of our beliefs as a factor in feeling confident in our abilities in a subject.
We need to do better to foster a strength-based mindset when we talk about STEM with students. Start with what children enjoy and accomplish well, highlighting those skills and building toward new learning and new skills over time.
Things We Need to Do
As parents, mentors, and role models, we need to seek out opportunities for children to have supplemental STEM experiences outside of school. These experiences can be organized camps offered through local libraries, churches, science or nature centers, non-profits, museums, schools and universities, or simple, impromptu nature walks with family.
By encouraging students to make observations, look for patterns, and talk about what they are thinking, we open up their STEM mindset. We don’t need to have all the answers to their questions. We simply need to be willing to ask our youth to say more about their thinking, and to encourage them to develop their ideas and understanding.
If you are looking for more formal experiences, there are many resources in the Upper Peninsula and across the state to explore. The list below offers potential first steps, and connecting with your regional MiSTEM director may also help.
• Northern Michigan University Camps, Student Programs, and STEM degrees
• Michigan Technological University Camps, Student Programs, and STEM degrees
• Michigan Council of Women in Technology (MCWT) – K-12 Initiative
• Michigan Women Forward (MWF) – Empower Girls & HERstory
• STEMinista Project
• Photo Essay: Women in STEM from The Michigan Daily
• Michigan Learning Channel STEM for girls content: Future of Me – Explore STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers; Career Girls – Career guidance videos
Chris Standerford serves as one of sixteen Regional Directors for the Michigan STEM (MiSTEM) Network. He works to connect, convene, and collaborate with stakeholders from business, community, and education. Mr. Standerford also serves as the director of the Seaborg Math & Science Center at NMU.
Excerpted from the Fall 2022 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2022, Empowering Lightworks, LLC. All rights reserved.